As I hope many of you know, Undra Celeste New York is a modern workwear brand. The more I get into the nuances of the brand and what modern workwear is all about, the more I think back to my time in the corporate fashion industry. I spent twelve years doing product development for various corporation fashion brands. I know that my experience as a black woman working in corporate fashion was, well…different. I can go on for pages and pages about how things are different, but I have an awesome friend who's working on an insightful book about this very topic, so you’ll just have to wait to read that. But one thing I know for sure is that during some of the most difficult times in my career CLOTHES WERE MY ARMOR:
the helmet of prayer, the gauntlet of a designer purse and the body armor of a dope outfit.
My last corporate job was for a very corporate sleepwear company. When I was in full swing at this position, I was also starting my side-hustle - this little clothing brand where I designed clothes for myself and friends on the weekend. My boss, who was known in the office and industry for being the ‘Anna Wintour of sleepwear’, was actually cool for the most part. She loved that I dressed well and that I was confident and not afraid to speak up. She would send me to licensing meetings to represent her, she promoted me twice and even on occasion called me her daughter. It was all good until it wasn’t. One faithful market week I got into a disagreement with one of our regional saleswomen. She took her side of the story back to my boss and from that point forward EVERYTHING changed. Meetings that I was leading, I now wasn’t even invited to. Projects I was working on got moved to someone else. Trips that I was essential for got canceled. This mental demotion devastated me. I was just waiting to be fired. The stress and anxiety were destroying me. I tried to have conversations with my boss about what was happening but her replies were just aloof; it appeared that even the conversation, I was not worth. I got very depressed and unsure of everything, even in my personal life. I cried often, not because I was afraid of being fired. I would have preferred it to this emotional slavery. I went from being the right-hand to the HBIC, to no one. She wanted me to live and sulk in that feeling of being dropped into no-one-ness. She didn’t want me gone, just put back in my place. It was a terrible feeling.
One evening while at home wallowing in my sorrows my mom called, this was probably the 100th time I cried to her over the phone about this situation. She listened and then said something simple and profound, “dress up for work tomorrow, you’ll feel better. And don’t let these people get you down”. As I stared into my closet, I thought, “I have really nice clothes”. Most I bought, some I made. The next day I decided to get dressed. No, not just put on clothes, I got DRESSED honey! I wore my single sacred pair of Christian Louboutins, beat my face and walked into work like I was born again from the fashion gawds! From that day forward, despite all that was still going on around me, I felt better about me. I showed up every day as Undra, worked on my brand at night and weekends and 13-months from the initial incident I quit my job to focus on Undra Celeste full-time. Six days after my last day I traveled to South Africa (first time visiting Africa), I needed to see my people lol.
Because of my personal experience Undra Celeste NY cannot just be another brand, it has to be something that empowers women who look like me and have gone through similar experiences. The woman who just needs that special something to pull their confidence up when it’s deliberately being beaten down. As shallow as it may appear, a new hairstyle, a beat face and/or a killer outfit has that power.
As my mother said to me, I say to you, “dress up for work tomorrow, you’ll feel better. And don’t let these people get you down”.
Every image below was taken at the office during this time
Please comment if you’ve been/going through the fire!